Archive for the 'Training Methods' Category

The key to unlocking how we learn is our memory

A memory like a sieve…It’s a relatable phrase describing how we forget things we’ve just learnt. So, how do we retain information and improve how we learn?

The word learn is interesting because it can evoke a variety of feelings. There may be the fear of failing and ambivalence towards a tedious and frustrating process in the early days. Still, there’s also a lot of excitement and pride in learning a new skill as it shows that we are developing and investing in ourselves.

We live in an instant world with so much information accessible at the press of a button or even through a voice command. If we are interested in starting a new hobby, there will doubtless be numerous articles, guides, classes, apps and youtube videos to get us started. 

Technology has given us the expectation of immediacy, but learning is biological, with no shortcuts or fast-tracking.

It takes effort and repetition to use the information and then apply it. But, learning to learn can improve multiple aspects of our life, such as academic performance, mental health and physical capabilities.

So, how do we learn?

Let’s start with biology!

A large part of learning is our ability to remember.

When we learn something, our brains create new brain cells that form connections. The more we repeat an activity and reencounter or recite a fact, the stronger brain cell connections get and the faster we can recall the action or information.

However, there’s also a time element at play.

Connections get stronger with repetition, but if what we’ve learnt is not reused within a specific time window, the associated brain cells and connections break down. What we’ve learnt is forgotten.

To our utter dismay and consternation, we’re back to square one.

Why? Despite what our desktop files might imply, our brains have evolved to be very efficient at decluttering.

It keeps what it deems useful and prunes the rest; use it or lose it. What isn’t repeated isn’t worth keeping.

Therefore, at the beginning of learning something new, frequently practising and repeating the activity is key to strengthening cell connections. This prevents the connections and cells from breaking down. However, as connections become stronger, the action doesn’t need to be repeated as frequently.

For example, we may need to practice something daily before it has entirely been committed to memory and then weekly to maintain it and then monthly and yearly to continually refresh the connections. Although, even after this, if we spend years without repeating the activity, it still won’t stand the test of time.

What’s the best way to learn?

What's the best way to learn?

Now we understand the link between memory and learning, what’s the most efficient way to learn and build a new skill? Spaced repetition is thought to be the answer.

During school, university, and work, we are asked to take in lots of information about a subject over a few months and tested on it. We reach a level of competency and then may never use this information again.

Or, even worse, be expected to recall it a few years later. In this case, it is likely the skill will need to be completely revisited and relearned entirely, which is time-consuming and frustrating.

We often ‘cram’ information, using our short-term memories and not learning to retain it in the long run. In a way, our brains our like muscles. Expecting to do a month’s worth of training to run a 5k in one day is impossible.

Spaced repetition

Spaced repetition

Instead of overloading and tiring our brains, the spaced repetition technique builds strong memories using active recall over optimally spaced intervals.

At the start of learning something new, we can recall information nearly perfectly. As time goes by, it will all be forgotten. Spaced repetition addresses this by recalling information again before it is completely forgotten.

Additionally, each time the information is recalled and some is partially forgotten, the memory becomes even stronger and the interval between needing to recall the information becomes shorter.

The number of repetitions and time intervals depend on the complexity of what is being learned and the individual. The idea is to store the information as long as possible and reduce memory decay.

It is a technique that improves long-term memory, unlike rote learning and cramming. Spaced repetition also encourages our brains to contextualise information and connect with something we already know.

Therefore, memorisation techniques are at the forefront of getting the most out of what we have learnt. It’s time-consuming and requires patience, but worth it in the long term!

At Infero Training, education and self-development are at the heart of what we do. Our courses have been developed and designed to optimise learning. We offer post-course support and further tools so you can revisit what you have learnt (a bit of spaced repetition, anyone?).